Climate change isn’t just making sea levels rise and leading to epic droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and heat waves. It’s also making diseases such as Zika and yellow fever spread as mosquitos move into more areas. And a new study suggests that it may have been a factor in the current pandemic.
The study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, mapped changes in bat habitat in Yunnan Province in southern China and nearby areas of Myanmar and Laos, a region where SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, may have originated in bats. As climate change made it warmer and sunnier in the area over the last century, and extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere made plants and trees grow faster, some areas that were once filled with shrubs and smaller plants became forests—an ideal place for bats to live. The study found that 40 bat species moved to the area in the last 100 years, making it a hot spot for coronaviruses. The animals brought around 100 new types of coronavirus to the region, one of which is genetically similar to the virus in the current outbreak.